Tips: Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity Management Project Management (Part I)

There have been many instances where DR/BCM/ERM projects fail to meet expectations.  Not only do they fail to meet expectations but they aren’t managed effectively either, assisting in the negative results.

There are many reasons for this and one of the key items is that not everyone has project management experience.  Let’s get something clear here; working on Business as Usual (BAU) initiatives where you are the only person working on something is NOT working on a project.  Sure, that may be the word being touted but it’s not a project in the formal sense of the description.  You are just getting a task completed that was assigned to you by your manager (or someone else); that is not project management.

Unfortunately, this is also the case with many people that take over the creation and management of the DR/BCM/ERM project.  They may have some level of knowledge of what is required but there is a lack in management aspect of the overall initiative.

I’ve often been asked as to what kinds of things should be considered when managing a DR/BCM/ERM project.  In fact, as I am currently doing just that with my client so I thought I’d capture some of the items that challenge many of the individuals on the project teams.   Of course, this is not a comprehensive list, as Project Management methodologies are much more extensive that this one article (even in two parts) could ever capture.  However, the items that follow are ones that will help you manage the project and assist with delivering what you need; to your satisfaction and most importantly, to the satisfaction of the project sponsor (the one who is paying for it).

  1. Decision Log – Ensure you capture all decision made along the way; from the very beginning of the project to the      end.   Make sure you capture what the decision is, why it was made, who made it and what were the  circumstances under which it was made.   This may include assumptions that were made because we all know that assumptions can change, both for the negative and the positive.  If something is questioned in the future or a dependant decision is required (or revisited), you’ll be able to know under what circumstances the original decision was made and adjust accordingly.  A big benefit here is if someone (maybe the sponsor or audit) ask you a question of why something was performed/executed in the manner it was and you’ll be able to physically show them the decision made and its related details.
  2. Actions Items – Creating a Business Impact Analysis (BIA) isn’t just an action item; sometimes there are other  actions required before you actually get your first workshop/survey completed.  Sometimes people you’re working with need to accomplish specific tasks themselves and if you don’t record them (with a due date and specific details) action items easily get forgotten and pushed to the side.  When something is documented, people know they are being held responsible for the item; if it’s verbal, it can be forgotten and in really bad situations where something critical is forgotten, it can be denied it was even discussed (With years of Project Management experience under my belt, it happens more often than you might want to admit).  So make sure all items are captured and don’t forget to document when the action item is closed and what the resolution is if the action item was to obtain a specific detail.  Oh, and it may seem obvious but put a delivery date to each action item and review them at least once a week  with your team; more if you’re pushed for time.
  3. Minutes for Status Meetings – For each meeting you have, document minutes.  For little meetings that last a few minutes, you don’t really need to go through the detail of documenting everything but you must capture any decision and action items.  The minutes don’t have to be word for word what someone said or the details around a specific topic but you’ve got to record what was happening in the meeting on a high level.  If you don’t, how will anyone know what’s going on in the project?  How can you capture the status of the project?  How do you know when you need to escalate something and help communicate what the problem/issue/concern is?  Minutes are also used as communication devices for those outside the core project team, so they can see the progress and the status and know when/how to help (if required).  In the minutes,      you can also captured the action items and decisions.  Sometimes its just easier to manage a single document rather than multiple but that comes down to personal preference so that’s up to you.
  4. Status Reports – At least once a week, you know you’re going to have to report to someone.   This might be from a presentation for 10 minutes to senior management or a documented status report with such things as; are you running on time; are you behind schedule; your risks and issues; what you’ve completed since the last report and what’s coming up next (also known as you’re next milestone).  Status reports are usually provided to upper management, which might include your senior sponsor representative, so make sure you’re honest and open in it.  Also, if you are capturing some of the      items noted in the points prior, the items shown in the status report won’t ‘blind-side’ an executive because you’ve been communicating items early.  Status reports also help you manage yourself to know where you are and where you’re going (along with the project plan if you’ve created one).
  5. Include Sponsor/Executives – In any project – not just DR/BCM/ERM – you’ve got to include your executives.  They are the individuals that are paying for you project after all (as one of them is sure to be your sponsor) so they must be part of what is happening.   Capture their thoughts and expectations so that you can address them; either to make them happen or to explain why something can’t be performed the way they want.  Executives are more willing to help and provide guidance if they are involved; if they aren’t involved then they aren’t as easily swayed to make the decisions you want.  They need to be apart of the project, not on the outskirts of it.  If a disaster occurs, it’s them that have the overall responsibility of the organization (even when there isn’t a disaster) so they’ve got to know what is happening in the project and most importantly, they must understand their role in the DR/BCM/ERM program.
  6. Financial Reporting – Have you ever been a part of a project that didn’t track financial information?  If you have, I’d bet you weren’t on a project at all.  Every project has some sort of a budget and financial tracking in place.  You may be tracking the costs of the core project team members and the time they spend on the project (sometimes referred to as resource tracking/costs) and you may be tracking costs associated with vendors that are involved with the project.  This can be from external consultants and experts to costs associated with acquiring technology resources (i.e. servers, cables, switches etc).   Oh, and don’t forget these costs may also include those related to new facilities or the acquisition of a 3rd party DR vendor site and setup.  With today’s financial concerns hitting the headlines every day, you must track the costs associated with the BCM/DR/ERM project and program.  The costs will also assist senior management with decision they need to make because ultimately, they are responsible for signing the cheques (so to speak) and if costs out weight the benefits, they may send you back to the drawing board to create new recovery/restoration alternatives.  This is based in part with financial tracking, so ensure you track and monitor on a regular basis.  If you’re lucky, you’ll have a financial expert assigned to your project to do all of it for you, as each Project Manager has varying levels of experience with financial tracking and in this way, all financials are managed at a single point.
  7. Change Management – If you are working at building a plan and a decision is made that impacts the projects scope,  timelines or resources (people, places, things, finances), you need to manage the change through change management.        This helps ensure that if any one of these items is changed, proper evaluation is made as to the impact upon the other two.  If not, you could find yourself with a larger scope but no additional time to accomplish the tasks.  Of you the time has shortened and you now has less time to get the same amount of work accomplished.  None of us have ever experienced that have we?  😉  Using project change management helps identify the impacts of the change and what those impacts will have on the project.  If you don’t use change management you could end up with delivering something that doesn’t      represent the corporations need.  To slightly turn a phrase, “A camel is a horse built with no project management.”
  8. Proper Representation – This doesn’t mean to make sure you represent them (though you are in some ways), it’s to make sure that every department and division has a representative that you can approach.  It’s important that every area that is    in scope for you has a single point of contact that you can discuss processes and plan development with.  This ensures that what is being discussed and developed for each area, is in fact a true representation of what they require.  If there is no representation, how can you know their requirements and needs?    You can’t.  Sure, you may know some if it but you won’t know the nuances of their processes and their dependencies.  By the way, this includes not just a subject matter expert (SME) but a management representative as well (hopefully a director or VP; someone that is close to the Senior Executive team).  This ensures that if key decisions are required in a division/department, then you’ve got the right people involved to help you get the answers you need.

Thus ends Part I.


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